Bystander action

Bystander action is the most effective means of combating sexism, racism and homophobia.

Although effective, people are reluctant to act out of fear of being hurt, victimised, falling out of favour with friends or making matters worse. Bystander action can change attitudes and culture over time and create a more equal and respectful society.

Remember, doing nothing does harm and even small actions can make a difference. If you sense or think something said or being done is not right, chances are you are correct and others around you probably feel the same. Trust your gut instinct!

While bystander action is seen as one of the most effective ways of stopping or preventing harm or supporting the victim, most people don’t do anything when they could have helped.

Barriers to bystanders taking action

  • Don’t notice or recognise what you are seeing or hearing as problematic or harmful. Due to what has been accepted as normal in society, e.g. harassment, sexist, racist or homophobic comments/ jokes.
  • Don’t feel it is your responsibility to intervene in a situation that does not involve you.
  • Don’t know what to do, so don’t do anything or just remove oneself from the situation.
  • Fearful of taking action, in case might make matters worse for the victim or for yourself.
  • Leave it to others to do something, called the bystander effect.
  • Worried about what others might think, particularly friends or peers and fear of victimisation.

Be an active bystander

You can be an active bystander face to face or online. There are some keys steps and different ways to intervene, depending on the situation. The important thing is that you do something to intervene or support the victim. You may not get it quite right the first time, but practice makes perfect.

The following model was developed by psychologists Bibb LataneĢ and John M Darley (1970). They provided a five-element framework on what influences a bystander to take action

Key steps

  • Notice and observe the situation.

  • Interpreting the event as requiring intervention.

  • Assume responsibility of the situation.

  • Decide how best to help, keeping the safety of yourself and others in mind.

  • Have the confidence in capacity to help.

Please watch this video which demonstrates bystander action in practice.

Ways to be an active bystander

Whatever action you decide to take, remember to focus on the behaviour of the individual. Don’t call someone racist, sexist or homophobic. This may escalate the situation and will most likely make the person(s) defensive rather than reflect on their actions or words. There are many different ways you can be an active bystander. The one you use will depend on the situation and your level of confidence.

The AIDED Model of Bystander Action

At La Trobe, we use the AIDED Bystander Model developed by Ryan Hsu (2018) to help us determine the right course of action.

A - Assign
I - Indirect 
D - Direct 
E - Evidence
D - Divert

Sometimes a situation is not ideal or safe for you to take action. In this instance, you should consider who you can assign this responsibility to. For example, you can assign it to someone with authority, such as calling the police, security or ask a friend of the perpetrator of violence to intervene.

You can intervene indirectly by getting help from someone that knows the parties involved in the incident. You can also intervene indirectly by checking in with the victim later and provide them with support and assistance.

If you feel confident and safe, you can intervene directly by stepping in, stopping the incident or take the victim away from the situation. In the workplace, you can also directly intervene in everyday sexism by telling the person to stop or remind them of the code of conduct or expected behaviour.

Keeping a record of the incident, such as taking screenshots of online bullying or posts on social media. This information can help authorities or the University respond to the situation. Keeping notes of incidents you have witnessed can also help authorities to take action.

Sometimes you can divert the harm away from the target by distracting the perpetrator's attention. While this may not solve the issue, it does provide the victim with temporary relief or time to get away from the situation. For example, asking the perpetrator to go for a walk, grab food or start a conversation about something else.

Please watch this video on how to be an active bystander online.

Support and resources

Internal support

External support

  • Emergency: Triple Dial: 000
  • Police: You can report incidents to the police and find your local police station here.
  • E-Safety Commissioner: provides a range of online safety and resources and handles online reports and complaints.